SAT Prep Set to Music

By Ann Bradley — June 14, 2005 1 min read

Teenagers grooving to music on their iPods may look as if they’re fooling around. But some are actually studying for the verbal portions of the SAT college-admissions test, thanks to two music lovers.

The duo, whose own days prepping for the tests aren’t all that far behind them, say that rap and hip-hop are excellent devices for learning new words. And their new CD and workbook, “A Dictionary and a Microphone,” offer 12 songs with 500 SAT-caliber words to help teach young people the beauty of the English language.

The idea behind their project, called Flocabulary, is to use a medium popular with teenagers to help them learn new words and their meanings and pronunciations.

“The difference between Shakespeare and Mos Def is really a lot less than people would assume,” Blake Harrison, one of the founders of Flocabulary, said last week.

He was referring, of course, to the famous bard and a popular hip-hop artist and actor, whom he described as “both poets playing with the language in a cutting-edge way.”

Mr. Harrison, who studied English at the University of Pennsylvania and tutors students for a private firm in Boston, wrote the lyrics for the songs. Alexander Rappaport, a graduate of Phillips Exeter Academy and Tufts University, wrote the music for the CD.

Students can download the songs for $2 each from the Flocabulary Web site at, or buy the entire CD and a workbook that goes with it.

Flocabulary’s founders hope their study program finds its way into schools, and they already report inquiries from a Baltimore middle school interested in using it in the classroom.

The SAT words used in the lyrics were provided by Sparknotes, the publisher of a series of study guides, Mr. Rappaport said. Sparknotes commissioned two songs and gave the songwriters its list of the top 1,000 vocabulary words to know for the admissions test, two-thirds of which is language-related.

“By using hip-hop we can connect, engage, and motivate students and let them learn in nonintimidating ways,” Mr. Harrison said.

The lyrics to the song “FLO + CAB,” for example, contain several weighty words: “I’m sanguine, optimistic and cheery / the opposite of enervated and weary, you hear me?”